Author previews new report

Posted March 24, 2010, at 7:44 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Alan Caron is prepared for the backlash of his soon-to-be-released report titled “Reinventing Maine Government.”

Anytime you talk about radical changes to structures that have been in place for decades, it’s going to provoke strong responses, he said.

“Reinventing government is going to happen; it’s happening now,” he said Wednesday at a forum hosted by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. “Why not stay ahead of it?”

Caron, representing a nonprofit group called Envision Maine, provided Chamber members and others with a sneak peek at his report, to be released in late April, which he says will ask probing questions of how government became so broken.

First, he said, government needs to be smaller.

“We don’t need a legislator on every street,” he said.

That reduction then should extend to state-run departments, he said, but also should trickle down to county and municipal government when appropriate.

“Do we really need one of everything in every town?” he said, explaining that towns were created at a time when horses were the primary mode of transportation.

Caron also plans for the report to examine the rationale behind having two separate higher education systems and whether the state’s transportation system is too large to maintain. Although he didn’t address it directly, Caron also suggested overhauling welfare and entitlement programs and other mandated but unfunded pro-grams.

“Everyone wants to take care of their neighbor, but there’s a point where we can only do so much,” he said. “Our generosity needs to be looked at.”

Caron, formerly of GrowSmart Maine, was involved in the 2006 Brookings Institution report that offered numerous suggestions for positioning Maine well for the future. Among those suggestions was consolidating Maine’s school districts, which was tackled with limited success only after tremendous resistance. Caron said the idea was good but the execution was flawed. He said the state’s consolidation of the county jail system also was a positive step.

One of the things he stressed Wednesday was the current political climate, which he said is set up to blame the other side.

“We are all to blame,” he said.

Caron’s presentation was well-received, but some questioned elements of his research. Tom Davis, a Penobscot County commissioner, said Caron was misinformed if he thinks the state’s takeover of the county jail system has been successful.

Dennis Marble, director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, cautioned against an underlying fear that has permeated society and turned to anger. He said all that anger frequently leads to no change at all.

“We need to defeat the mouths that put out nothing but poison,” he said.

Caron agreed that anger, hostility and partisan talking points are getting society nowhere. He also said change is difficult because there are “whole institutions that protect the status quo.”

He hopes his report opens eyes and generates a discussion of big ideas.

“There has never been a better opportunity to make real change,” he said. “When you run out of money, it gets your attention.”

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